Learn to Listen

Cultivate social connections

Make closer friendships

Listening is essential to form and maintain strong, healthy social relationships. Listening allows you to be open, generous, and connected with others, especially those who are close to you emotionally. If you don’t listen carefully to others, you’ll have a tough time making and keeping friends. You’ll also have a hard time being a loving and well-appreciated spouse!

Listening has two basic purposes: 1) Acquiring information, and 2) Bearing witness to another person’s experience. The second purpose reflects everyone’s fundamental need for expression and recognition. Careful listening acknowledges the value of the other person and allows that person to feel that he/she is being heard.

Good listening requires taking an active and genuine interest in the other person and what he/she has to say. To listen well, it’s necessary to let go of what’s on your mind long enough to hear what’s on the other person’s mind. It’s particularly important to listen for the implicit feelings in what the other person says. Unfortunately, we often fail to resist the impulse to provide advice or to argue rather than simply hearing what the other person has to say.

It’s difficult to listen attentively when you react emotionally to what the other person says. Your ability to listen effectively depends on your ability to avoid reacting emotionally. Mature listeners take responsibility for their responses.

When someone criticizes or corrects you, it’s important to hear the other person fully and acknowledge his/her point of view. After you clarify what you heard and once the other person feels that he/she has been heard, then you can offer your point of view. Responsive listening can help you amicably resolve stressful situations.

In his eminently readable book, The Lost Art of Listening, psychologist Michael Nichols makes a compelling case for responsive listening. Nichols suggests the following five steps: 1) Check the urge to argue and concentrate on listening to the other person’s side of the story, 2) Invite the other person’s thoughts and feelings without defending your point of view, 3) Repeat the other person’s position to show what you think he/she is feeling and thinking, 4) Allow the other person to correct your understanding of his/her position or to elaborate, and 5) For major issues, wait a day to present your response. For minor matters, pause before responding.

Nichols also provides a 25-item “good listener” quiz that will help you identify specific ways in which you can become a better listener. Buy this book and read it. You will be amply rewarded.

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